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Bravo to local legislators pushing for school funding

  • Jo Comerford running for Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester District Senate Seat.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

The region’s legislators have our backs when it comes to state funding for public schools, whether for small, cash-strapped rural towns or public higher education, which of course is a major economic engine in the region.

Students, educators, parents, legislators and community leaders — including local lawmakers and Greenfield Community College’s new president — rallied at the State House last week to lobby for more state funding for public education — at the K-12 level and also for higher education. They were aiming for hundreds of millions more in state aid.

At the event, legislators unveiled the CHERISH Act, filed by first-term Senator Jo Comerford of Northampton and returning state Rep. Paul Mark of Peru, both of whom represent area towns in the Legislature.

The event, organized by a coalition of education advocates like the Mass. Teachers Association, is calling on the Legislature to meet the recommendations of a bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission and the Higher Education Finance Commission by increasing state funding for preschool through grade 12 by $1 billion a year and increasing state funding for public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year.

Advocates are calling for “reinvestment in public education” to happen in time for local communities to include the funding in the next academic year’s budget and in time for public college students to avoid tuition and fee hikes this fall.

A rather ambitious goal, but we are glad to see our legislators are at the front lines of the fight. Earlier, local legislators succeeded in creating a new category of K-12 state aid for rural schools, which we have argued are burdened in ways that urban schools are not, especially by busing costs.

It was state Sen. Adam G. Hinds of North Adams who championed the rural aid bill that brought 33 rural school districts $1.5 million in extra funding this year. That included Ralph C. Mahar, Mohawk Trail and Pioneer Valley regional school districts, as well as Hawlemont, Swift River, Rowe, Orange, Sunderland and Erving schools. He and his allies like Sen. Anne Gobi of Spencer hope to raise the rural school aid to $9 million next year.

This week’s Statehouse lobbying follows several meetings throughout the region where educators, administrators and parents have advocated for increased state funding for schools squeezed by dropping enrollments and higher costs.

Comerford’s CHERISH Act would require the state fund public higher education at no less than its 2001 fiscal year per-student funding level, adjusted for inflation, and freeze tuition and fees for five years.

Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez, president of Greenfield Community College, said she finds it is important to support legislators and legislation that prioritizes education because it is “vitally important for the future knowledge-driven economy.”

“Community colleges enroll 50 percent of undergraduates in the state and the great majority of community college graduates remain in Massachusetts. At a time when Massachusetts is ranked seventh in the nation for outmigration, this is a smart investment in public higher education,” she noted.

Comerford cited founding father John Adams who said, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it.”

Comerford said her bill seeks to re-establish a workable baseline for state investment in a sector that has seen steady decline over 18 years.

The higher ed study commission found that since 2001, state funding of public colleges and universities has declined, from $12,000 per student each year to $8,000 per student.

Mark echoed Comerford’s support for public education, saying that “Massachusetts thrives based on our knowledge economy, and if we want to continue to lead, we need to continue increasing our investment in higher education.”

We are pleased to see that — whatever the outcome of these efforts to boost state spending for public schools and colleges — that our local legislators are themselves continuing to lead the charge to ensure our schools get their fair share of state funding.